Wednesday, January 7, 2015

National Weather Service Plans Next Generation of Supercomputers

National weather forecasters say they are investing millions of dollars in increased supercomputing capacity to provide more timely, accurate, reliable and detailed forecasts nationwide.

The announcement of Jan. 5 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is part of ongoing computing and modeling upgrades that began back in July 2013.

By October of this year, the capacity of each of NOAA’s two operational supercomputers will jump to 2.5 petaflops, for a total of 5 petaflops, a nearly tenfold increase from the current capacity, the announcement said. A petaflop is a measure of a computer's processing speed and can be expressed as a quadrillion (thousand trillion) floating point operations per second (FLOPS).

NOAA officials said upgrades in the Hurricane Weather Research Forecasting model did exceptionally well during the hurricane season. The National Weather Service has also put into operation the High-Resolution Rapid Refresh model, which delivers 15-hour numerical forecasts every hour of the day.

The increase in NOAA’s supercomputing capacity is being financed through a $44.5 million investment using NOAA’s operational high performance computing contract with IBM, $25 million of which was provided via the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, related to consequences of Hurricane Sandy on the nation’s east coast.

Cray Inc., headquartered in Seattle, will serve as a subcontractor for IBM to provide the new systems to NOAA.

“By increasing our overall capacity, we’ll be able to process quadrillions of calculations per second that all feed into our forecasts and predictions,” said Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service.

These supercomputing upgrades will significantly improve our ability to translate data into actionable information, which in turn will lead to more timely, accurate, and reliable forecasts,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan.

Up ahead of the upgrade, each of the two operational supercomputers will first more than triple their current capacity to at least 0.776 petaflops for a total capacity of 1.552 petaflops. With this larger capacity, the National Weather Service in January is beginning to run an upgraded version of the Global Forecast System with greater resolution that extends further out in time.

Peter Ungaro, president and chief executive officer of Cray, said the investment in increased supercomputing capacity will allow the National Weather Service to both augment current capabilities and run more advanced models.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D- WA, hailed the announcement that Cray will serve as a subcontractor to IBM in the project. “This investment will ensure Americans have the best supercomputing technology available to track and identify severe weather systems and help protect lives and property,” Cantwell said.

Cantwell has led efforts for improved weather forecasting in the Pacific Northwest. She spearheaded the successful push to get Washington State’s first coastal Doppler Radar in 2011. That Doppler radar is now positioned west of the Olympic Mountains to improve detection of severe storms approaching Washington’s coast. It is the first fully operational Doppler radar in the nation to be equipped with dual polarization, the latest enhancement in radar technology for civilian weather forecasting.

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